"Tokyo Sonata" is a story set in modern-day Tokyo about the Sasakis, a middle class family of four whose lives were at a crossroad. Faced with the typical problems that usually confront people at some point in their lives, the family is forced to deal with the challenges head-on. And in their own way, they were able find out more about themselves, their strengths and weaknesses, exorcising their individual demons in the process.
The movie provides the viewers with a glimpse into the lives of how a family in a patriarchal society like Japan operates and functions. It also provides us with a look into some of the Japanese Culture's mores, beliefs and values. To an outsider not familiar with Japanese customs, some of the scenes may be offending, especially when it comes to corporal punishment and the influence and power a Japanese father wields over his family.
There is Ryūhei (Teruyuki Kagawa), who had to deal with the shame of being fired from his job when the company he was working with outsourced their operations to China to save money. He decided not to tell his wife about his predicament and continued with his daily routine so as not to burden his unsuspecting wife of his fate. At his age, he struggled to find a new job that would suit his taste and former stature, until, in the end, he is faced with the choice of going hungry or swallowing his pride and taking an honest but 'demeaning' job as a janitor in a mall. He is a proud but complex man: strong on the outside but soft on the inside.
His wife, Megumi (Kyōko Koizumi), often seen wearing an apron, is a traditional Japanese housewife who runs the household, knowing her way around the kitchen but always aware of her place in the presence of her husband. She is kind and gentle when it comes to dealing with her husband and children, but also has the inner strength to withstand reality when fate dealt her a crippling blow.
One of their children, Takeshi (Yū Koyanagi), is a typical 'rebellious but vulnerable teen' who decided to enlist with the U.S. Army, and was sent to fight in Iraq, wherein he found his 'awakening' and followed wherever his heart led him.
On the other hand, Kenji (Kai Inowaki) is a gifted and sensitive child whose musical gift was unbeknownst to his family. He spent his lunch money on piano lessons he couldn't afford, and had to practice with a non-working Roland keyboard that he found in the dumpster. He paid the price for his indiscretion, and while it took the intercession of his piano teacher, his family finally realized his prodigious talent in music and allowed him to follow his dreams.
Although the movie sometimes diverted from its smooth path, Director Kiyoshi Kurosowa deftly wielded the tale of the Sasaki family into a beautiful and touching film, worthy of the accolades that it received in various international film festivals it was entered in.
Over the course of the movie, the Sasaki family descended into the lowest points of their lives: They were confronted with situations that tested their characters' resolve. They were tempted to throw away their core values in exchange for monetary gain. Their experiences left them scarred but unbowed. They had to undergo a purification process to start healing their broken lives, cleanse their souls and re-establish harmony within the family again.
But the Sasaki family's journey towards a new life will have to start through their son, Kenji, and his music. If we have doubts about the ability of music to help us with our inner turmoil, Tokyo Sonata will help erase that. If we have second thoughts about the healing power of music, Tokyo Sonata will surely answer that.
And with Kenji's haunting performance of Claude Debussy's 'Clair de Lune' at the end, there is only one word to sum it all up - Catharsis.